Angélique Kidjo is easily one of Africa’s most influential artists, and her acclaimed album, Celia — a moving tribute to iconic Cuban singer, Celia Cruz — was about as stunningly executed as any album that dropped last year.
That being said, even she seemed shocked that her project beat out Burna Boy’s career-defining opus, African Giant for the ‘Best World Music Album’ Grammy. Taking to the stage to accept her fourth Grammy, she thoughtfully dedicated her win to the afro-fusion star.
“This is for Burna Boy, [he] is among those young artists [who] came from Africa [who] are changing the way our continent is perceived.”
An instant favourite from the moment it dropped, Burna Boy’s African Giant not only ended 2019 as the most-streamed album in Africa, but it was also the most critically acclaimed, earning nearly unanimous praise from music critics around the world.
So, that begs the main question: If a Nigerian album that broke chart records, had tangible cultural impact and was fervently praised by fans and music critics alike couldn’t bag a Grammy, then what kind of Nigerian album can?
A category issue
It definitely doesn’t help that ‘Best World Music Album’, the category Nigerian artists are most likely to be lumped into, is extremely flawed. ’World music’ is a borderline racist term for music that doesn’t fit the European or American mould.
When you take a look at some of the artists that have won in the past — from Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Soweto Gospel Choir — it’s pretty clear that when it comes to this category, voters don’t care for projects with pop-leaning sounds or influences.
Based on the kind of projects that typically get nominated, a Nigerian album by anyone without the last name Kuti would stick out like a sore thumb in any year, making a triumph in this category seem damn near improbable.
That’s why a win for African Giant — a project that fuses afrobeat, dancehall, pop, r&b and hip-hop — would have marked an exciting new direction for the outdated category, but it seems we’ll just have to keep waiting for the Grammys to catch up.
What’s the solution?
It’s about time the Grammys introduced an Afrobeat category — honouring projects that are predominantly influenced by the genre Fela Kuti pioneered. Afrobeat has been immensely influential, and it’s insulting to still have it exist under the flawed umbrella of ‘world music’.